Speeches

We had a very special day in the United States Capitol this afternoon, and I’m grateful that we as a nation were able to honor Senator Robert Dole by presenting him with the Congressional Gold Medal. It’s the highest civilian honor that the United States can bestow. He joins a list of very esteemed Americans, going back to 1776 with President George Washington as the first recipient of this award.

The Gold Medal shows our highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions, and Senator Dole was such a deserving recipient of this award. It was real honor and pleasure for me to be there to see this take place.

Senator Dole is known obviously as a member, former member, of the United States Senate, a Majority Leader, a Presidential Candidate. But I would put at the top of my list, in the attributes that I admire and respect, is Senator Dole’s service in our military.

Senator Dole joined the Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was 21 years old and left Russell, Kansas, and ended up on the battlefield, in the hills and mountains of Italy. He suffered for nine hours after being hit by a Nazi bullet. It did tremendous damage to his body and to his life. But that wasn’t the end, as it could be for some people. Even if people continued to live after these traumatic injuries. This was a recovery process that began that day for Senator Dole.

I once heard a story about Bob Dole’s commitment to our country that stuck with me. There are lots of Dole stories, particularly in Kansas. Bob Dole used his injuries to learn about caring, not for himself, but for others. And his service in World War II, again what I greatly admire and esteem, also resulted in his effort to raise the money, no taxpayer money, to build the World War II Memorial now on the National Mall. Senator Dole took that task on and made certain that happened for his soldiers and fellow colleagues that served in World War II.

He went out and raised the money across the country. He was out in Hollywood, California and he was visiting with one of those people who have lots of money, and Senator Dole asked for this person’s support for this project. And he was told by that wealthy person that he was not interested. And Senator Dole responded to that mogul, “When I was 22 I had other priorities, too. I went to war.” And that’s the Bob Dole that every day since then has gone to battle on behalf of Americans, other Kansans, and people across the country. And his service in many ways began in his military service, but continued every day since his days in the 10th Mountain Division.

During his nearly 36 years on Capitol Hill, Senator Dole became known as the leader who worked relentlessly to forge alliances and pass significant legislation. Today, he serves as a role model for those of us involved in this legislative process. We ought to be fully engaged in the kind of public service that Senator Dole represented.

Senator Dole has used his experiences to be a champion every day for those with disabilities and for veterans. Coming from Kansas, he had an appreciation for those who were in need of food. Senator Dole grew up in the Depression and knew tough times. But it became a goal for him to see that people who were hungry were fed. It's one of the reasons I continue to chair and work in the Senate Hunger Caucus; Kansas, a place in which we raise lots of food, but recognize there are lots of people who are still hungry. We have a role we can play, and Senator Dole provided the leadership to accomplish that.

I now occupy this desk, kind of an amazing development, but this is the desk that Senator Dole had on the Senate floor during his time here. And this desk allows me to be reminded of the type of public service that too often we think of as a thing of the past. It doesn't have to be a thing of the past, it can be a thing of the present. And each of us can use that role model to make certain that in our day-to-day, we do things to bring people together and find solutions to common problems.

There probably is no one living from Kansas more admired and respected than Senator Bob Dole. For three decades he was our congressman and our senator. And he grew up just down the road in Russell, Kansas, just a few miles from my hometown. And I've seen what continues today, the love and respect from Kansans, but particularly those from small towns and particularly from those from Russell, their regard for him. And we ought to work every day to honor his legacy.

I think there is something about growing up in small town America. There’s differences of opinions in small towns, and there are Republicans and Democrats in communities across Kansas and there's people who go to this church or that church. But when you’re in a small town, you have no choice but to figure out how to get along, and how to solve problems, and how to work together. And Bob Dole brought that Kansas common sense and goodwill and desire to have achievement instead of a fight to the United States Senate.

So I honor Senator Dole for his military service, and for his public service as an official of our government, an elected official. And I thank him for his efforts on behalf of veterans, on behalf of people with disabilities, and on behalf of people who are hungry. And I ask my colleagues, in honoring Senator Dole, in presenting him a medal today, that we honor his work by doing ours better.

I've been with Senator Dole at the World War II Memorial when Honor Flights come to Washington D.C. He's there, and he's there almost every time a Kansas group comes to the World War II Memorial. But he's also there when almost any group of World War II veterans come to visit the World War II Memorial. And I've watched the way they respond to him. And the mutual respect between him and his fellow veterans is inspiring and unparalleled.

I'm a firm believer we change the world one person at a time, one soul at a time. And Bob Dole has been making that difference and changing lives for 94 years. So thank you, Senator Dole, for your distinguished service to our country and especially to our home state of Kansas.

The world is a better place because you are in it, and we hope you take great satisfaction by knowing that your colleagues in Congress today honor you with the Congressional Gold Medal because it reflects the truth of what a high quality person you are.